Being a Telugu-speaking person who spent a vast part of life in non-Telugu states, running into other Telugu-speakers is always interesting. I suppose the excitement only increases in direct proportion to the distance one is away from their home. The farther one is from their home, the happier they are when they meet someone from their homeland. Non-compliance with my ‘rule of home-land’ is the first of many issues I had with Gatham by Kiran, who also wrote the film. Entirely shot in the US encircling Telugu-speaking characters, they neither acknowledge nor share the excitement when they meet someone from their clan. None of them do. Moreover, almost every major character is a Telugu-speaking person, detaching it from the realistic setting that the screenplay tries to operate in. I don’t expect the characters to animate their reactions like in Nishabdam, also a mystery with Telugu characters set in the US, but a simple acknowledgment would have made these characters look more…normal.
The premise, with shades of several cabin-horror/slasher/psychopath movies, is intriguing enough. Rishi (Rakesh Galebhe, in the shadow of Vijay Devarakonda’s destructive mode) wakes up in a hospital with a jaded memory after an accident. With his girlfriend Aditi (Poojitha Kuraparthi) by his side, he embarks on road trip. When their vehicle breaks down in the middle of a desolate roadway in a freezing climate, they are helped by a by-passer Arjun (Bhargava Poludasu) who offers them shelter till their car is fixed. As they arrive at his remote house in the forest (tried not to say cabin in the woods), Arjun’s crookedness buried under the good samaritan self starts to show, and things quickly get wicked. Obviously. Backed by the weirdness girdling Arjun, the first half – despite the lack of depth – holds your interest with several questions running down your mind.
Thrillers are usually pervaded with red herrings to deceive the viewers, and this one is no exception. However, akin to genre films, Gatham banks heavily on the reveal, and the reveal ends up becoming the entire second half of the film, reducing the first half to a mere trailer instead of building up suspense towards the reveal. Nevertheless, this kind of screenplay is hard to come by, owing to the obsession with the twist in the climax that should (in an ideal scenario) shatter the guessing game. The structure of the screenplay is reminiscent of Billy Wilder’s Fedora in which almost half of the film is devoted to the background revealing what led to the death of the titular character in the opening scene. In both Gatham and Fedora (which polarized the viewers due to its unusual structure), more happens in the reveal than the film preceding it, and it’s a creative choice relatively new in the Indian space. One might argue that flashback has remained a prominent story-telling device in Indian films, to an extent it is beaten to death, questioning the inventiveness of Gatham. In the genre of the film – mystery – though, rarely do we get a film that creates, develops, sustains, and nearly resolves a mystery in the reveal itself. Although the plot point is far from new, the structure distinguishes Gatham from other films, which only disclose the mystery in the reveal.
As it is with human nature while watching mysteries, we try to outmaneuver the filmmaker, making it a war of guesses. If you win, the filmmaker loses. If the filmmaker wins, you win too. In the case of Gatham, too, you are a step ahead of the filmmaker till the end, but the positions flip, just like how Georgia flipped in the nick of the time in presidential elections. I’m obliged to bring a US reference since the film is set in the US.
Watching Gatham is like having ten green chillies and an extra-large bar of dairy milk immediately. The aftertaste depends on whether the sweetness of the chocolate, i.e. the surprising reveal, managed to succour the pungency of the chillies, utterly predictable plot points.
Despite all its flaws – questionable character motivations and logical loopholes – and regardless of being an independent film with no major names associated with it, Gatham is much closer towards glory than any of the recent ‘big’ mainstream films like V, Nishabdham, and Miss India. And that’s certainly because it tries to tell a interesting story.
PS: My strongest takeaway from the film is how supportive a father can be to his son. Hmmm.
Gatham is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
Watch the trailer: